Holiday Gift Guide 2014: Tablets, Smartphones, Laptops

A Tablet For Any Season

It feels like only yesterday that we were whipping up last year’s holiday gift guide, but somehow a full year has passed and we’re staring yet another winter in the face. Don’t fret, though — just because you haven’t prepared for this season doesn’t mean that you’re hung out to dry. As the technology behind smartphones, tablets, and laptops has evolved over the past twelve months, we’ve collected the best and brightest in order to shape your gift buying. 

Regardless of whether you’re shopping for yourself or a loved one (or both), it’s a great time to be in the market. From budget products to flagship device, your options have never been so diverse--or powerful. We’ve assembled our top picks in the pages here, and feel free to add your own in comments to help your fellow readers!

iPad Air 2: from $499+

Apple iPad Air 2 Stock

Most are in agreement that Apple's iPad Air 2 is one of the finest tablets ever produced, if not the best out there, period. And it's not difficult to make that case -- after all, the latest 9.7-inch iPad is thinner than its predecessor at just 6.1mm thick, wicked fast with its custom A8X System-on-Chip (SoC), and incredibly light at just under a pound. Toss in a gorgeous display and a set of ancillary features that have been upgraded for this latest release, and even the most stringent critics can't help but pile on the praise. There are cheaper alternatives in the Android camp, and some are pretty darn good options, though none are clearly better than the iPad Air 2. Read our review here.

Dell Venue 8 (2014): from $179+

The Venue 8 is a solid device that punches above its weight class given its price, though it won’t redefine the segment. Dell has thrown a few nice extras onto the Venue 8, but at $179, it can occasionally feel a touch under-powered--again though, this is the norm for tablets in this market segment. If you're looking for a tablet with more horsepower, you're going to have to justify the upside cost.  If, however, you're looking for a quality slate that gets the job done and offers some pretty strong gaming chops, the Venue 8 3840 is definitely worth considering. Read our review here.

NVIDIA Shield: from $299+

One of NVIDIA’s stated goals with the SHIELD tablet was to build the best tablet for mobile gamers. But to do so, they first had to build a good general-purpose tablet. We think NVIDIA has pulled it off. The build quality on the SHIELD tablet is top notch; the device is rigid, it looks great, and it feels good in the hand. The screen is also very good, the speakers sound great (for a tablet) and general usability is excellent. We understand why many tablet manufacturers customize Android on their devices, and dig some of the unique features available on other products, but we also like the clean, unmolested versions of Android NVIDIA puts out. Read our review here.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3: from $799+

The Surface Pro 3 has the performance and build-quality to easily earn a recommendation. Microsoft has also nailed the user experience--everything the Surface Pro 3 was designed to do, it does well, and it is easily one of the more attractive portable devices we have used. However, if you're not a fan of Windows 8.1 and all that it entails, the Surface Pro 3 may not change your mind. We, however, think Windows 8.1 is ideal on a device of this type and think the Surface Pro 3 is a compelling, worthwhile update to the Surface line-up. Read our review here.

Google Nexus 9
: from $399+

The Nexus 7 was amongst our favorite tablets in 2013, and Android loyalists have been wondering when its successor would ship for some time now. The answer is here, and it's the HTC-built Nexus 9. Straddling the form factor fence between a 7-inch slate and a 10-inch slate, the 8.9-inch Nexus 9 just might hit the sweet spot (assuming none so far have hit it for you, that is). In typical Nexus fashion, the overall design is sleek and understated, with a soft grip back, gentle sloping curves around the edges, a thin bezel, and a trifecta of color options. Aside from shipping with a potent 64-bit processor and Android 5.0 (Lollipop), there's also an optional magnetically attached, fully-responsive keyboard that enables it to convert into something of an on-the-go workhorse. Specs wise, you're looking at an 8.9-innch IPS panel (2048x1536), a 6700mAh battery, 8MP rear camera, 1.6MP front-facing webcam, a 2.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor, Kepler DX1 GPU, and your choice of 16GB or 32GB of inbuilt storage space (but no microSD expansion slot).

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